Her Hair Doesn't Catch on Fire

Millennials and the Experienced Economy make great partners

A colleague who is a successful professional in her late fifties was out with her 20-something year-old daughter and that daughter’s friends. Something in the conversation led my colleague to say that she loved working with Millennials. The Millennials responded with shock. The all recounted how they felt bombarded with negative messages from older generations. One even told the group how her father would forward articles to her about how lazy and entitled Millennials were.

Intergenerational name calling is as old as time. But its time is over. We are all living longer and work is changing rapidly. We will soon have a workplace that has four generations working side by side.

Our sires' age was worse than our grandsires'. We, their sons, are more worthless than they; so in our turn we shall give the world a progeny yet more corrupt. - Horace, Roman poet 20 BC

My colleague and Astia Board of Directors member Jeanne Sullivan recently gave a fantastic keynote at Inspirefest in Dublin. Jean has had a long career as a venture capitalist with Starvest Ventures, and she recently left to start something new. She was appalled when people would come up and congratulate her on being retired. She bristles at that word so do not say it in her presence. She considers herself anything but retired. She is still operating in high gear.

She considers herself a champion of the Experienced Economy. She is delighted to work across generations to bring what she has to new ventures. In addition to her experience and her capital, two obvious advantages, the most interesting characteristic older generations can bring is calm under pressure.

Jean explain that her “hair doesn’t catch on fire when somethings goes wrong”. That’s a strength that Millennials could use. The levels of stress felt by Millennials is palpable to anyone working with them. Every generation feels tremendous stress in their twenties, and the older generations aren’t making it any easier.

We need to make sure that we use our experience to bring this calm under pressure and not just use it to make us jaded.

I remember an interview with a young photographer who was going to live 24 hours a day for five days in a shop window. His response to the interviewer summed up the downside of experience when it makes us jaded. It has stuck with me for four years.

“What I see in older people is that experience makes you very picky. If I invite a young friend to the beach, they will say, “O.K., fine, let’s go.” If I invite older people, they will be, “Am I going to have my own room?” “Will I have my own bathroom?”

People, please. You are older; you know what it is like to go and maybe have a bad time, so you ask and you become annoying, and I am fighting myself not to turn into that. So I don’t want to know if I have a bathroom. I don’t care if the bathroom is in perfection condition. Going to the bathroom is not the priority in this project. Taking a shower is not the priority. The priority here is my experiences living in the public eye. Being a photographer is not just the picture you get; it is what happens behind the camera.”

So instead of telling Millennials all the different ways things can go wrong, let’s work together. Things will go wrong. They always do, but we’ll work through it. We’ll bring our capital and experience with our problem solving and crisis management, and you’ll bring your great ideas and your own unique perspectives.

Barbara Clarke